September 7, 2017 | Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs

Evaluating Sanctions Enforcement and Policy Options on North Korea

Download the full testimony here.


Chairman Crapo, Ranking Member Brown, and distinguished members of this committee, thank you for the opportunity to address you today on this important issue.

My testimony will examine why current sanctions on North Korea are insufficient to exert meaningful pressure while also explaining how the U.S. government and its foreign partners can implement sanctions that have a much better chance of restraining Pyongyang’s brutal dictatorship. Above all, the U.S. and its partners must apply the lessons learned from its successful effort to force Iran to the negotiating table via comprehensive sanctions.

Despite the common misperception that tough sanctions on North Korea are already in place, my testimony will illustrate how the current restraints on Pyongyang pale in comparison to the ones that compelled Tehran to negotiate. Above all, the U.S. and its partners must target the Chinese firms, individuals, banks, and others who play a crucial role in enabling North Korea to evade sanctions. Again, there is a common misperception that China is immune to pressure from abroad, yet there are already strong indications that Beijing will bend when facing the right kind of pressure.

In the course of my testimony, I will offer nine specific recommendations for how Congress and the Trump administration can implement an effective sanctions regime.

Before proceeding, it is essential to underscore the urgency of the threat from Pyongyang. Kim Jong Un is a despot who murdered an American citizen; tortures, starves, and kills his own people; and will spare no expense to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that can deliver a nuclear weapon to the United States. The July 4 and July 28 ICBM launches and September 3 sixth nuclear test are a wakeup call to all of us, especially those who once described Kim as a “Swiss-educated reformer” or believe North Korea has any interest in serious negotiations with the United States.[1]

Furthermore, one should not assume Kim will hold back from using his nuclear weapons on America and our allies. 

Often, U.S. policy toward North Korea gets stuck in the provocation-response cycle whereby a North Korean provocation is met with strong rhetoric and/or a token increase in sanctions, which is repeated over and over. These scattershot responses have not to date added up to a serious and effective sanctions policy because they are driven by the momentary need to look tough, rather than by a clear strategy for denuclearizing the Korean peninsula. In practice, the Kim regime can keep distracting the United States with its repeated provocation. We should break this cycle and ensure that the U.S. response to every North Korean provocation advances our ultimate goal.

Regrettably, many experts call for the acceptance of North Korea as a nuclear weapons state and insist that the U.S. can protect itself with a policy of deterrence. To evaluate the effectiveness of deterrence, one must be clear about such a policy’s goals. Some suggest the United States has successfully deterred Pyongyang over the last 25 years, since there has been no second Korean war. But the goal should be deterring North Korea from actions that threaten the U.S. or its allies. On that score, deterrence has a mixed record at best. For example, Pyongyang killed over 40 South Korean sailors when it sunk the Cheonan, maintains a robust relationship with Iran, built a nuclear reactor in Syria that Israel destroyed in 2007, and launched a ballistic missile directly over Japan. Unfortunately, this is a short list of the failures of deterrence.

Thus, the U.S. finds itself in a rapidly deteriorating situation where counterproductive policy options like a negotiated freeze of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs or a hypothetical peace treaty are treated like real options. Advocates say North Korea is ready to accept a freeze and/or peace treaty and it will lead to denuclearization. Unfortunately, we have seen this movie before.

Not only has North Korea told us it is not interested in denuclearization, its actions reinforce it. Pyongyang showed us the “Map of Death” in 2013 suggesting its nuclear targets are Washington, DC; Hawaii, home to Pacific Command; possibly San Diego, home to the Pacific Fleet; and possibly San Antonio, home to U.S. Air Force Cyber Command.[2] Just after the July 4 ICBM test, North Korea’s state media said that the Kim regime would not negotiate its nuclear weapons or ballistic missiles or stop bolstering its nuclear force unless the United States ended its “hostile policy and nuclear threat” to North Korea.[3] Translation: When Washington abandons its allies in Tokyo and Seoul and removes all troops, North Korea might be willing to talk about its programs.

At some point, Washington will need to consider the Kim regime as the obstacle toward achieving denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, and sanctions can decrease the threat from the regime in a way that negotiations cannot.

[1] Michael Moynihan, “Kim Jong Un & The Myth of the Reformer Dictator,” The Daily Beast, December 24, 2013. (

[2] Jeffrey Lewis, “The Map of Death,” Foreign Policy, April 3, 2013. (

[3] “Kim Jong Un Supervises Test-launch of Inter-continental Ballistic Rocket Hwasong-14,” Korean Central News Agency, July 5, 2017. (